Juba (Sudan), Jan 9 : There were scattered clashes in southern Sudan Saturday, one day before voting starts in a referendum on southern independence.
Fighting in Unity State killed six soldiers under the command of rebel leader Gatluak Gai, according to a spokesman for the southern army.
These are elements that are trying to undermine the referendum," the souths interior minister, Gier Chuang, told reporters Saturday. We are investigating who is organizing and arming them."
The fighting occurred on Friday night and Saturday morning, with four rebel soldiers killed during an attack on an army base Saturday morning and two killed Friday night. The southern army also claims to have captured 32 of Gai's soldiers.
Southern Sudanese are to go to the polls on Sunday to decide whether to become an independent nation or remain united with the north. About 3.9 million people have registered to vote in the referendum and the south is expected to vote overwhelmingly for secession.
There was also fighting reported in the disputed border region of Abyei over the weekend, leading to as many as 9 deaths, said Charles Abyei, the areas speaker of the assembly. While details remain unclear, the fighting was reportedly between members of the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya tribes.
The oil-producing area was also originally scheduled to hold a referendum on Sunday to decide whether to remain united with the north or join an independent south. That vote has been postponed.
Neither side can agree on whether the Misseriya, a nomadic tribe that travels through Abyei each year, should have the right to vote. A 2009 ruling in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague established a border around Abyei that excluded the Misseriya, but the tribe claims they should have the right to vote.
Many analysts predict that if there is a return to war in Sudan, it will start in Abyei. In 2008, clashes between the northern and southern armies killed 89 people.
But Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir warned earlier in an interview with al-Jazeera that Southern Sudan is not ready for independence and could face instability as a result.
"The south suffers from many problems. It's been at war since 1959," he said. "The south does not have the ability to provide for its citizens or create a state or authority."
Voting in the referendum will start on Sunday and last until Jan 15. For the vote to be valid, a 60 percent of those registered have to vote.
According to the referendum commission's timetable, preliminary results will be announced Feb 1 and the final results are expected by Feb 14.
The referendum was enshrined in the 2005 peace deal that brought an end to the 1983-2005 civil war between the mainly Muslim north and Christian and Animist south.
The conflict, Sudan's second civil war, left around 2 million people dead and displaced millions more.